Macros and Other Foolery

macros everywhere

First let me start out by stating that fad diets are the bane of my existence. Second, let this serve as fair warning that my harsh opinions might be, well, harsh. Third, if you say any of the following words to describe your eating style (or flavor of the moment, as I’d rather call it), then I will make fun of you: Paleo, Atkins, counting macros, primal, clean, blood-type, etc. Sorry…not sorry.

(If you’ve received this blog update twice, sorry; there were some glitches the first time around!)

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Due to some recent discussions on the matter, I am forced to talk about “macros.” But before I do, I will kindly say to those of you who requested I talk about macros: my words are not directed at you personally (and yes, there are several of you who will feel like I am talking at you) so please do not take it that way. Any insensitivity that is exuded from this article is directed toward the not-nutrition-professionals-but-think-they-are-because-they-lift-weights dudes who somehow decided to start this fad of using annoying buzzwords like “macros.” *rolls eyes*

If you’re wondering what a “macro” is, it is the cutsie term for “macronutrient.” There are three macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein, and fat. No self-respecting, credentialed, real nutrition professional would be caught dead using the term “macro.” There is no “macro aisle” at the grocery store. Macronutrients are contained in the foods we eat. No single food or food group contains only one macronutrient; rather, the foods we eat are often a combination of at least two, if not all three macronutrients.

In the interest of addressing the issue of “counting macros,” I must declare first that I absolutely despise teaching anyone to count anything. You’ve probably heard the saying “don’t miss the forest for the trees.” I feel very strongly that once we start crunching numbers on the calculator and counting calories or carbs or proteins or whatever, we miss the big picture of eating healthy. I have seen it a million times with my patients; and it is ALWAYS the ones who are STRUGGLING with their weight or health (or both) who are counting stuff. Always.

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Furthermore, if we only focus on how much carbohydrate, protein, or fat we are consuming, we lose sight of quality. Cookies would provide me with some fat and carbohydrate. Are cookies healthy? Come on. If you focus instead on having a meal that contains real, whole foods—a small amount of fiber-rich carbohydrate-containing foods, a moderate amount of protein-rich foods, and a little fat (especially from fish/nuts/whole foods)—then you are far more likely to consume an appropriate amount of macronutrients AND micronutrients…without counting anything…

DISCLAIMER: A very important point to consider here is that each and every single one of us has a unique health situation, and specific nutrition advice can and should be tailored to YOU. This is general advice, and may not apply to you. Seek counsel from a registered dietitian nutritionist (NOT a personal trainer) for more individualized guidance.

Ok, ok, ok….without further adieu, I will reluctantly give you some numbers. The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for carbohydrate, protein, fat for the average Joe or Jane is as follows:

Carbohydrates: 45-65% of caloric intake
Protein: 10-35% of caloric intake
Fat: 20-35% of caloric intake

If it sounds like a lot of math, that is correct. You’d first have to determine your estimated energy needs in terms of calories (or kcals in clinical terms). You next would calculate the calorie percentages based on the AMDRs as a starting point. Then you’d convert the calorie amounts to grams of each macronutrient. Then you’d have to determine how that measures out in terms of actually putting together a real meal composed of real food. Complicated? Yup. You wouldn’t get this advice from me, I’ll tell you that right now.

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What you would get from me is real concepts. Even athletes trying to “bulk up” can eat real food and achieve results. Athletes likely DO need more calories and protein than the average Joe or Jane. Some individuals, even athletes, perform and feel better with less carbohydrates. A slightly higher emphasis on protein can increase the calories burned in the digestion of food (known as the thermic effect of food). A too-high intake of protein can damage your kidney function and lead to some serious health problems. A too-high intake of fat can cause strain to your heart or liver function. That said, if you are just a regular dude or dudette trying to get in shape, lose weight, or simply improve overall health and wellness, then stop obsessing over numbers. Stop it, stop it, stop it.

Here are a few usable takeaways:

  • A real nutrition professional will not utter the word “macro.”
  • We need some carbs, some protein, and some fat to be healthy.
  • Whole foods (i.e. whole vegetables, whole fruit, whole-food-fat-sources, plant-based proteins, lean meat, etc.) not shakes/bars/powders/pills are how you should get your macronutrients.
  • Aim for ½ your plate of non-starchy vegetables, ¼ your plate filled with fish/plant-based protein-rich foods/lean meats, ¼ your plate filled with whole grains/starchy vegetables, maybe a little fruit on the side or separately as part of a snack.
  • If you are choosing whole food sources, often your fat intake should be built-in or otherwise part of the meal. Limit the amount of added fat (mayo, butter, oils) and try your best to eat foods that naturally contain fat—avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, and fish are some sources of great types of fat.
  • Choosing whole foods affect more than just your intake of macronutrients. Whole food choices ensure that you obtain appropriate vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and other phytochemicals.
  • Not all carbs are created equally. Fruit juice and white-flour grain products increase the insulin response. If consumed in copious amounts for a long time, this increases the likelihood of belly fat and insulin resistance.
  • Weight loss is not as simple as “calories in versus calories out” or “counting macros.” Health condition, hormones, and many factors are involved in the physiological functioning of the wonderful, awesome machine we call our body. But if you’re eating a ton of junk food, then reducing that would be a good start…
  • Adequate vitamins and minerals are crucial to the success of creating or enhancing a healthy metabolism, as micronutrients ensure that you efficiently “burn” energy.
  • Consistency is critical. Eating about the same time each day, and trying not to go more than 4 hours without eating something of nutritional value is important.
  • Every meal/snack should contain a protein-rich food, but you don’t have to get crazy with it (i.e. stop it with the protein shakes – eat a handful of peanuts or almonds for goodness sake). Click here for more information on protein. You actually have to do some strength-building and cardiovascular exercise to really, truly, improve your overall health.
  • Don’t forget the 80/20 rule. ANYTHING that requires utter restriction or “cheat meals” or “cheat days” is not an improvement to your lifestyle. If 80% of the time you are spot-on with choosing healthy, whole foods, then 20% of the time you can include some real-life stuff (have a burger once in a while or enjoy cake at the birthday party).
  • Another 80/20 rule to follow is that 80% of weight regulation (in either direction) comes from eating; 20% of weight regulation is related to exercise type and frequency. Translation: you cannot exercise your way out of an unhealthy eating style.

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Stay tuned for posts in the near future re: carb-cycling, ketogenic diets, and intermittent fasting…

XOXO – Casey

7 thoughts on “Macros and Other Foolery

  1. Thank you for your article lettucetalk.

    Why do people wander into these types of “Foolery?” As a person who has basically no/limited nutritional education, I believe it is because many people are trying to do the ‘right thing’ to help themselves lose excess weight, such as myself.
    Most persons, I’m assuming, want to make good nutritional choices…but when you really break it down, they want to lose the excess weight that is becoming a problem and keeping them from being the healthiest version of themselves.
    These “foolery” types of diets do give us (the non-RDs) something to hold on to as a guide while attempting to navigate the world of endless ‘internet fixes’ and ‘fake news’ for health living.
    No matter what the healthy whole food diet, IIFYM, Paleo, etc. you choose to live, if you are not aware of ratios and proportions (calories/macros) it doesn’t matter…in vs out.
    For example: A whole wheat organic peanut butter and jelly sandwich (635 cals, 22p – 26f – 75c) or a Personal Pan Pizza from Pizza Hut (620 cals, 25p – 28f – 68c) I think most people would say, go for the organic PB&J, right. But…how many people actually measure out the precise 2 tbsps spoons (32g) of PB? If they are like me they are going by what looks good, then lick the spoon clean and then maybe an “innocent” swipe of PB for good measure before closing the lid. Then, they head off to work feeling all good about the organic PB&J that is now actually costing them 750 cals and then they say no to their friends who are going to out lunch, b/c they are doing the right thing by not going to lunch and eating their blessed healthy sandwich.
    Now, if you know how to watch your calories/macros, you can effectively live the 80/20 much more tangibly and feel empowered that you are doing the right thing vs feelin’ good that you made a whole food choice that actually is putting you over your calorie goals for the day and then to add insult to injury, you missed out a fun lunch with you co-workers. Finally all of this could have been avoided if you knew how to watch you calories/macros, but instead you’re still just the sad fat kid in the corner eating your PB&J by yourself not losing weight b/c you still don’t know what you are doing.

    Best regards,
    Nacro Mutrient

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  2. Thanks for reading!
    First I would say that I’ve never in my life seen a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that was 750 calories…interesting…most PbJ sandwiches I’ve ever taken the time to ‘count up’ have been around 400ish calories appropriate as part of a meal.

    Second I’d say that you are free to count whatever you desire to count. I will stand behind the thought (based on science and many years of practice) that fad diets, especially those which require a calculator, keep people in struggle mode for a lifetime.

    Lastly, as mentioned in this article, shifting focus to the big picture makes calories matter far less, yet health tends to improve.
    Cheers!

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  3. You’ve never seen the size of my PB&J.

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  4. If you really want to MAXIMIZE weight loss, you HAVE to track your nutrition in some way.

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    • If by track, you mean eat consistent meals composed mostly of non-starchy vegetables, some lean or plant-based protein-rich foods, some whole grains, some whole fruit, some healthy fats…then yes I agree. But I absolutely do not agree you have to crunch numbers to be healthy.

      In just about every post, I’ve described a simple plate method that can be used to create an endless combination of quality foods leading to good health. That would be a fantastic tool to use!

      Cheers!

      Like

  5. […] protein-rich foods, some fruit, some whole grains…and you got vitamins, minerals, and your “macros” there? GASP! Perhaps to top it all off, you got 7-9 hours of sleep and drank mostly water for […]

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  6. […] some people are insistent on counting calories and macros and all sorts of numbers, you’re not going to find that here.  Why?  Because healthy living […]

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